It’s been a few years since I first saw MC Melodee in a TV format that introduces up-and-coming European musicians. I understood that she was based in Amsterdam and rapped in English and despite personal sympathy didn’t really see much potential there. A female European rapper trying to reach a wider audience with traditional hip-hop? Not a chance. But since then the chances for independent rappers everywhere to break out of their niche have increased, thanks in large part to the internet. The net also spurred international collaborations, which places “My Tape Deck” firmly in the here and now. Melodee first teamed up with Spanish production outfit Cookin’ Soul in 2011, who themselves are ahead of their emceeing partner in terms of name recognition, having worked with a number of well-known US rappers (most recently N.O.R.E.).
“My Tape Deck” follows last year’s free “Check Out Melodee” mixtape and has a clear musical theme to it. As the cover suggests, “My Tape Deck” is inspired by the 1990s. More precisely, Cookin’ Soul evoke the years 1994 and 1995 with jazz-funk-sourced basslines, horns, flutes, Rhodes, etc., all arranged in Pete Rock/D.I.T.C. fashion – or rather the relaxed variant. Making her first appearance as early as 1999, Melodee, who is in her late twenties now, has first-hand experience of ’90s hip-hop, and she peppers her performance with trademark phrases and adlibs. Check the “Rock, rock on” shoutouts in “Exhale” (which in the ’90s might actually have been an ’80s throwback themselves) with which she tops off the warm embrace of the track.
On “Check Out Melodee,” “Don’t Front” was a Neptune-ish excercise in stripped down neo-boom bap, in remixed form (“Don’t Front Remix”) it turns into an homage to the Black Moon/Beatminerz heydays, which is actually more congruent with Melodee’s exposing of “posers in the scene.” It’s not the only track where she switches into battle mode. On “Ain’t My Style” she puts loudmouth machos in their place:
“Ain’t rappin’ ’bout love, don’t need no Casanova
Knockin’ on ’em doors like an upright Jehova’
I’m spreadin’ the word, not my legs, can’t go there
You act in despair, you ain’t goin’ nowhere
Call that teen groupie for some tender love and care
And if you’re mad at me, I just smile, honey bear
I’m ready for the war, call you out – be prepared”
She’s decidedly less confrontational on “Games You Play” and “Balance,” where she uses good advice and arguments to convince both genders to play fair, whether it’s in the battle of the sexes or in general. Melodee is a conversational MC, speaking to her “Firstborn” (joined by Pharcyder Bootie Brown) and addressing a significant other on the closer “Up in the Clouds,” whose simple but compelling imagery relates the need to be grounded in life. Further conversations on “My Tape Deck” include a duet with International Jones (“Night Life”) and the introspective monologue “Think Twice,” where going “back to the essence” also seems to be a personal thing for her.
The best thing about the album is that it isn’t a dogmatic record that tries to tell us about the good old days. It’s simply a genuine, organic approximation of those days. Cookin’ Soul do a constantly solid job (even as they regularly fail with those basslines that simply don’t have that melodic quality they were obviously hoping for). Miss Melodee herself is equally solid, blending nicely into the beats without losing her personality. “My Tape Deck” isn’t spectacular by any means, nevertheless MC Melodee x Cookin’ Soul is a compatible constellation that produces a soulful and heartfelt collaborative project.